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Amazon Seeks Next Generation Of Cloud Users

AWS has launched AWS Educate, an online service with self-paced labs, tutorials, and best practices for educators and students.
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Amazon wants to educate us on how to use the cloud. And several major educational institutions -- including Carnegie Mellon -- are on board to help.

Amazon Web Services, the current dominant cloud vendor, launched AWS Educate on May 14. The Web portal offers a variety of resources for developing cloud skills, including how to make use of AWS EC2, S3, and other core services. It will also aggregate coursework from university computer science professors and host virtual educational events. Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Los Angeles High Impact Information Technology, Entertainment & Entrepreneurship, and Communications Hubs (a consortium of eight community colleges) are among the member organizations participating in the project.

The goal is to make it possible for educators to quickly and easily find cloud-related course content, incorporate cloud technology into their teaching curriculum, and provide students with hands-on experience with cloud technology. The company is sweetening the pot with the offer of AWS credits for those who use the AWS Educate materials.

"When we travel around the world, customers tell us they need more job skills in cloud computing," Teresa Carlson, AWS VP, worldwide public sector, said in an interview. Carlson pointed to Code.org, a nonprofit encouraging computer education in public schools. The organization projects that, by 2020, there will be 400,000 students in college computer science courses in the US, and 1.4 million jobs waiting to be filled.

[Want to see why Amazon thinks it's going to be around for as a cloud supplier for a while? See AWS Revenue Reveals Cloud Powerhouse.]

"We want this to be available to everyone, from community college programs up through the Ivy League. We want as deep and broad a set of students as possible," said Carlson.

In addition to basic compute and storage, AWS Educate users may access Relational Database Service, DynamoDB, Elastic MapReduce, the Cloudfront content distribution system, Redshift data warehouse, and Glacier long-term storage. Educators at member institutions are entitled to $200 worth of AWS credit, while their students get $100 in credit. Educators at non-member institutions can earn $75 in AWS credit, and students can earn $35 in credit. The credits can be used to redeem eligible AWS services such as those listed above.

AWS Educate will feature self-paced labs for hands-on experience with cloud services. Educators receive access to AWS Essentials courses, which offer an in-depth technical look at various services and ways to use them.

Among the resources that will be available through the site will be Amazon webinars and instructional videos on best practices, along with customer case studies. Carlson said AWS Educate plans to stage virtual events for educators and in-person events on the campuses of member colleges and universities.

Educators will be able to upload and share programs materials they have created to teach cloud computing, according to a statement from Amazon. The portal will include a forum where educators can discuss issues in their work and how they created coursework. The portal already houses educator-uploaded materials from the likes of Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Cornell. AWS CTO Werner Vogel taught and conducted research at Cornell before joining AWS.

Available courses include: Scalable and Cloud Computing, taught by Prof. Zack Ives at the University of Pennsylvania; Introduction to Cloud Computing, taught by Eyal de Lara at the University of Toronto; and Introduction to Data Management by Magdalena Balazinska at the University of Washington.

In the Amazon Educate announcement, Prof. Majd Sakr, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, said that he gives students "1.2 TB of Twitter data and asks them to compete against other students by building a Tweet query Web service that meets correctness, budget, and throughput requirements." He said he's had 770 students take on the problem so far, and he'd like to expand his use of AWS in the classroom over the new few years.

Ives, at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the Amazon Educate announcement that it's important to give students "realistic projects … such as building a Web crawler and search engine," and also to "demystify the popular services they use every day."

Patricia Ramos, dean of Workforce and Economic Development at Santa Monica College, a member of the LA HI-TECH consortium, said in the Amazon statement that the course work available through AWS Educate was important for "equipping our students with the skills needed to succeed in a competitive workforce."

"We're trying to create crowd sourcing" for cloud-computing content, Carlson told InformationWeek. In addition to computer science departments, where she thinks the program will have its first appeal, she expects to try to engage business schools, medical institutions, among other schools, in the coursework available. "There will be very few jobs that don't require some skills in coding and computer science," she said.

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